Dissecting the Computer Virus

Published: 12th August 2005
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Don't be fooled by the innocent sounding names, some of the most famous and damaging viruses sound seamlessly harmless: The "Melissa" virus in 1999 infected thousands of computers via email causing an estimated $80 million in damage; in 2000 the "I Love You" virus infected millions of computers overnight; the "Anna Kournikova" virus lured unsuspecting users with the promise of digital pictures of the tennis player, but instead mailed itself to PC users in the user's address book; The Code Red worm of 2001 targeted a specific group of Microsoft servers, causing an estimated $2 billion in damage. The more recent, "MyDoom" worm became the fastest spreading email worm, by persuading people to open email attachment that contained a virus.



So what exactly is a virus and how can such a tiny word cause so much damage? A virus is a computer program written with malice intent and with the sole purpose of causing damage to computer systems. A virus is a piece of programmed code that is loaded onto your computer without you knowing, and has the ability to replicate itself. Unlike the medical definition of a virus, computer viruses are man made, even a simple virus can be detrimental to your computer. Simple viruses are easy to produce and can copy themselves over and over, taking up all your computer memory and ultimately crashing your computer system. While simple viruses are harmful, even more destructive are viruses that are capable of transmitting itself across computer networks (i.e. through your email address book) and those with the ability to bypass security systems.






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There are many analogies made between a biological virus and computer virus. The insertion of a virus into a computer program is called infection, and the infected file is called a host. A virus can only spread from one computer to another when its host is taken to the uninfected computer (i.e. opening an infected file). A worm, often confused or used interchangeable with a virus, but is different from a virus. A computer worm is a self-replicating computer program; it is self-contained and can spread itself to other computers without needing to be transferred as part of a host. A worm can also be programmed to delete files on a host system or send documents via email.



You may ask, why would anyone want to create a virus? The majority of biological viruses are organic, and ones that we deliberately try to avoid; while computer viruses are intentionally created by programmers, or by people who use virus creation software. Virus writers can have various reasons for creating and spreading malware (Malicious software), they may see it as a prank, or to attack a product of a specific company, or for political reasons. Others see virus creation as a form of art.



In order to understand viruses and anti-viruses, we must dig a bit into the history of viruses. Let's jump back to 1969, when ARPANET was created. ARPANET was the precursor to the Internet, and was created by the United States Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA). ARPANET was a large wide-area network that served as a blueprint for new networking technologies, mainly used by many universities and the US Defense Department. In 1988, a virus infected ARPANET, disabling 6,000 computers on the network by flooding their memory banks with copies of itself. Three years later, Symantec releases the first Norton Anti-Virus software.



Anti-virus software consists of computer programs that attempt to identify, thwart and eliminate computer viruses and other malware. This is usually done using two different techniques: one involves scanning files looking for known viruses and matching them to a dictionary of known viruses. The second approach involves identifying suspicious behavior from any computer program which might indicate infection. Once a virus is detected, the anti-virus software can take one of three actions: it can delete the infected file, quarantine the file so it will not spread or attempt to repair the file by removing the virus itself.



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There are many anti-virus software programs on the market today. Researching about the various programs is probably one of the most important things you can do for your computer, and could mean the difference between protecting your computer and losing all your files. MicroAntiVirus® dubs itself the "Complete Security Solution" and that it is!! It not only scans and removes viruses, but can also detect intrusion, hostile activity and even the presence of Spyware. This program protects not only your email, but other susceptible programs such as instant messengers (MSN messenger, Yahoo messenger, ICQ). On top of all this, you also get unlimited free updating (no yearly fee) and 24-hour customer support. Another trusted anti-virus program is The Shield 2004 Professional®. This is not only an anti-virus program but also offers firewall protection against hackers and other privacy threats. The feature that sets it apart from other Anti-virus software programs is it has high-speed scanning capabilities. It also does not occupy much of your system's resources, so you continue to work on your computer even when scanning is taking place. When a virus breaks out, timing is everything. The Shield Pro 2004® guarantees a patch within 2-3 hours and a fix for the virus within five hours.



There are over 100,000 viruses out there this very second, just waiting to infect your computer. It is estimated that PC viruses have cost businesses approximately $55 billion in damages in 2003 alone! The monthly rate of infection per 1000 PCs has been nearly doubling every year since 1996. Don't take the issue lightly, or assume that the chances you will be infected are slim. If you wouldn't think of leaving the front door to your house wide open while you sleep, why would you do the same with your computer?



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